The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia rears to check debacle in desert

New Delhi, Dec. 30: Stung by the Gujarat debacle, the Congress high command has turned its attention to the party and party-led government in neighbouring Rajasthan for close political scrutiny.

Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and Pradesh Congress Committee president Girija Vyas met the party central leadership at the AICC headquarters late this evening. Their arrival here, coming as it did in the wake of the three Assembly byelection debacles in the state along with the Gujarat loss, has fuelled speculations in AICC circles about a possible shuffle in the party and government.

Gehlot acknowledged the mounting pressure on him as he and Vyas emerged from a meeting with the Congress chief’s political secretary and party general secretary in charge of Rajasthan affairs, Ambika Soni.

“I know there is an impression among party workers that my government listens to only party MLAs and MPs. It is not correct. We will initiate necessary steps to bridge this perceived gap between the government and the party,” Gehlot said.

He declined to comment on rumours of his replacement ahead of next November’s Assembly elections.

“That is not for me to say. It is for the party leadership to decide,” he said.

Sources said the chief minister would be asked to concentrate on improving the image of his government that has, of late, taken a beating over reported instances of starvation deaths in the state.

Gehlot denied that an AICC team had been set up recently to monitor his government’s functioning. According to him, the panel of Pranab Mukherjee, Ghulam Nabi Azad, P. Shiv Shankar and Soni had been set up much earlier to oversee his government’s adherence to the party election manifesto.

Though it appears that Gehlot will retain his job, given party president Sonia Gandhi’s known aversion to axing party chief ministers just because of some byelection debacles, the new year is unlikely to be kind to Vyas.

With the high command keen to put in place an election-driven PCC set up well ahead of the next November Assembly polls, she will have to make way for someone else.

This revamp of the state unit might come soon enough as, according to informed party sources, the purpose of summoning the two leaders was to begin consultations over the issue.

The influential Jat lobby in the state unit has been staking claim to lead the party in the election year. The high command might concede the claim, lest the BJP camp usurps the party’s traditional support base in the state.

It is uncertain whether Gehlot will meet Sonia, though the chief minister is likely to be in the capital tomorrow. But Soni tonight briefed the Congress president about her discussions with Gehlot and Vyas.

The party revamp will not be confined to just Rajasthan, say sources, adding that the next few weeks will see a shake-up in several PCCs.

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